My, my, my, but Sarah MacLean has served up a rather steamy Regency romance. Technically, it's a post-Regency romance, since it takes place in 1823, three years after the death of King George III and the Prince Regent's accession to the throne. But I digress.
The heroine in Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake is not your stock heroine. All (or nearly all) historical romance heroines are smart, clever, attractive young women with some sort of non-traditional skill (e.g., knowledge of medicine, fluency in Greek and Latin, archaeological acumen, etc.) But Lady Calpurnia Hartwell ("Callie"), rather than already possessing great beauty or any impressive skill at the start of the book, quite literally comes into her own (any puns entirely intended) during the course of this novel.
A "spinster" at the age of 27, Callie is suffering the indignity of celebrating her younger sister's pending nuptials to a Duke in what happens to be a love match. Callie decides that if she's going to live on the shelf, she might as well have a bit of excitement in her life, and being an intelligent female, she makes a list of what it is she wants to do:
1. Kiss someone--passionatelyUnder the influence of a great deal of sherry, Callie decides to tackle that first item first, and sets off in the middle of the night to the home of the Marquess of Ralston, a notorious rake on whom she's had a crush for a decade following a moment of kindness shown to her during her first Season. When the very first scene between the hero and heroine involves tongue and is set inside the man's bedroom*, you know things are going to get hot indeed. And when Ralston demands a "price" for his kiss that involves her spending a great deal more time in his home, well, you know it's gotta be good, right?
2. Smoke cheroot and drink scotch
3. Ride astride
5. Attend a duel
6. Fire a pistol
7. Gamble (at a gentleman's club)
8. Dance every dance at a ball
9. Be considered beautiful. Just once.
*In fairness, there's a prologue set in 1813 that is technically the first scene between the two, but it's not part of the main narrative, but is backstory that explains how they first met, what it meant to Callie, and so forth.
What I particularly enjoyed about this book was the smart writing and the large helpings of humor found throughout the book. I especially adored the hero's eventual declaration of love, found on page 392. The things about Callie that Ralston lists off, ending with "And I very much wanted to be able to tell you all that before you were shot in a field", are just the sorts of things any woman would be ecstatic to hear. That it comes after quite a number of shared adventures (involving things on Callie's list as well as things she would never have presumed to put down on paper) and in front of an audience only adds to my appreciation of it. And that it includes such a humorous closing line is pure gravy.
As for the love scenes: I could have done without the phrase "sweet rain" (sorry, Sarah), but otherwise I found nothing to complain of in the physical scenes, and that, my friends, is saying something when it comes to romance writing. I have never written a sex scene in my life, and my hat is off to anyone who manages it with aplomb. And Sarah decidedly handles it with aplomb and with gusto, making for a page-turner of a read that fosters a strong desire to RE-read the book (which, of course, I did. Twice).
I am pleased to have discovered that this is the first of a three-book deal, that the second book will provide us with Nicholas St. John's story (twin brother of Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston), and will be entitled Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord. No word yet on the third book, which will, I believe, tell us the story of the St. John brothers' half-sister, Juliana Fiori, and which manuscript Sarah has just turned in (if my following of her tweets has correctly interpreted events).
I am very much looking forward to the next books involving the St. John/Fiori family, and to the sequel(s) to The Season that are, I believe, in the works (based on something Sarah said over at Goodreads).
If you like historical romance with a side-helping of humor and quite a bit of steam, this book is for you. Whatever you do, however, do not hand it willy-nilly to every teen you know who read and enjoyed The Season. I'm not saying that some older teens might not be up for it; I'm just saying that younger teen readers probably aren't. (Says the woman whose teen girls think most romances are "sex books" - although the younger of the two has read all the Lauren Willig romances - but they contain fewer love scenes and less detail than does Nine Rules.)